Beyond Pavement: What the Streets Bond Will Buy

An artist's representation of what streetscape improvements to 21st Avenue could look like.

When San Franciscans voted to fix crumbling streets by approving Proposition B, they also approved nearly $90 million for pedestrian, bike, and transit projects. It will give certain Muni lines the power to change traffic signals, and pay for sidewalk improvements and bike lanes.

“Prop B gives us the opportunity to really catch up on our streets—not just fixing potholes, but actually making the streets better from an urban design perspective,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR.

Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk SF, said the value of these projects will make the borrowing worthwhile. “These are exactly the kind of investments that it makes sense to use a bond for,” she said. “They are long-term improvements that will improve the safety and walkability of our streets.”

Much of the money is assigned to specific projects, but the largest chunk—$50 million—will be divvied up through a political process. This money could be used to stripe bike lanes, plant trees, install new lights, or otherwise improve streetscapes. Planners will be holding meetings in 2012 to determine where this pot of funding should go.

“I think the biggest opportunities for pedestrian improvements are on the neighborhood commercial streets,” Metcalf said. “These are the central places within every neighborhood in the city, the places where activity is concentrated and where we want to create a truly comfortable and inviting public realm.”

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition will be advocating for money to go to dedicated bike lanes, said Executive Director Leah Shahum. “They are proven to draw more people onto bikes, improve safety, and connect neighborhoods with real, low-cost, bang for your buck,” she said, before reeling off a list of streets where a little money could go a long way: Masonic Avenue, Jefferson Street near Fisherman’s Warf, Polk Street, the Embarcadero, Ocean and Geneva Avenues. “This is just a partial list,” she said. “Obviously there’s not enough money to do everything.”

The funding has the potential to save lives. More than half of pedestrian deaths and severe injuries occur on just 6.7 percent of streets by length, noted Tom Radulovich, head of Livable City. “I don’t want to miss that opportunity. As they move through the city, any time the resurfacing touches on of that 6.7 percent, we should be making improvements.”

The rest of the $90 million, beyond the $50 million for streetscapes, breaks down as follows:

  • $20.3 million for Muni signal priority: Stoplights will be programmed to sense approaching Muni vehicles and turn green, said Municipal Transportation Agency representative Paul Rose. “It will give signal priority to our fleet so that when they come to a stoplight they get through faster,” he said. “It will cut travel times and prevent bunching up.” Rose said Muni has not determined which routes will receive this technology first.
  • $14 million for pedestrian curb cuts: Pays for the construction of 1,767 new curb ramps to make sidewalks more accessible to wheelchairs, strollers, and those using walkers. Spots that people with disabilities have identified will get top priority.
  • $8 million for sidewalk improvements: Flattens sidewalks cracked by age or tree roots.
  • $7.3 million for seismic retrofits: This will go to fix concrete that has buckled with movement, and to repair structures (bridges, tunnels, retaining walls, and stairs) that could fail in an earthquake.

Enjoy the Thanksgiving weekend. Streetsblog San Francisco will be back publishing on Monday.

  • Much of the money is assigned to specific projects…

    I’ve been googling around but can’t seem to find a list of these. Anyone have a link?

  • imrana javed

    this is huge amount required for this project, but at least it is beneficial for peolple
    Toronto Airport Transportation

  • =v= Dear Artist:  While overpruned trees are, sadly, an accurate depiction of the state of San Francisco’s urban forest, we should strive for better in our visualizations.  The trees shown here have their entire lower canopy removed, a practice known as lion’s-tailing that is damaging to the tree (and is actually illegal in this city).

    More to the point of this site’s mission: removing the lower canopy also destroys the traffic-calming benefits of the trees.  We need better than that if we’re going to transform traffic sewers into livable streets.

  • This refers to the 20 million for Muni, 22 for sidewalks, and 7.3 for earthquake stuff. If you want to know which sidewalks etc read the bond report here:
    Second one under supporting info…

  • Pete

    What are the traffic calming benefits of trees?

  • Joel

    Its a fine line… Not pruning enough can create hazardous conditions for pedestrians if there isn’t enough sidewalk space.

  • TwinPeaks_SF

    Street trees calm traffic by narrowing the apparent field of view, as well as signaling that one is likely in a residential/populated area. Trees forming a complete canopy are especially effective.

  • Seven

    Good luck getting homeowners to accept sidewalk trees, now that the City makes them responsible for upkeep and any root damage.

  • @Joel  – The 8ft of vertical clearance that the city requires over sidewalks is well short of the drastic overpruning depicted in this visualization.  Overpruning is a greater danger to sidewalk-travelers because trees respond by growing weakly-attached “watersprout” branches that are much more likely to break off and fall.

    @Pete – @TwinPeaks has it right. Traffic-calming is about changing the dynamics of a street so that slower speeds feel appropriate. A good canopy does this more effectively than any traffic-control device.

  • Treeroot

    Where I live, I resent planted trees because they reduce sidewalk width – in my area, to widths almost certainly less than ADA width (and in the winter with snow piled up, almost completely impassable)

    I would view sidewalk planting with concern, as that depiction certainly looks like it makes walking side by side less appealing, not more.

  • The trees in that picture restrict the sidewalk less than the illegally parked car. And it never snows in San Francisco. Maybe you resent that you live in a place where it snows?

  • Sfjberk

    Most streets are not streets that are under the DPW tree program. DPW’s trees are generally on major thoroughfares, neighborhood Commercial Districts.

    If folks want a tree in front of their house, they must go through the Friends of the Urban Forest program. Maintenance for those trees has always been the responsibility of the property owners.

    The city has not required homeowners to maintain those trees under the auspices of DPW, although there was discussion of that proposal last year.

  • Sfjberk

    The trees in the photo accompanying this article are photoshopped into the residential street pic from a Neighborhood Commercial District where DPW has liontailed the ficus trees, probably Lower 24th Street.

    The most egregious example of liontailing in SF is on Lower 24th Street where the ficus are mature ±30-year-old trees which have been overpruned so badly by DPW that they have developed a disease (Sooty Canker).

    I know that it’s bad practice to “top” a tree, but in the interest of maintaining the mature canopy, perhaps bringing down the height to reduce the liontailing would be advantageous.

    As it stands now, even though the Sooty Canker can be fairly easily treated, some of these trees are/will be slated for removal. In their stead will go Gingko and Maple.

    Sooty Canker Management

  •  @Treeroot – San Francisco’s street tree plantings don’t violate the ADA at all, in fact the tree vaults they’re planted in are often too small for the health of the specimens planted (a problem that could be addressed with more rigorous species selection).  A few of the permeable sidewalks projects have troubled me, reducing sidewalk widths to the ADA’s bare minimum.

    Plantings and street furniture alongside the curbs are at least uniform, and much less of an imposition on sidewalks than the varying-width encroachments jutting out from properties to accommodate cars.  Since “normal” driveways don’t afford enough clearance to drive a tall vehicle into the basement of a Victorian house, those who purchase such vehicles simply build their driveways out into the sidewalks.

    All of these problems pale, of course, next to the epidemic of cars (of all sizes) parked all over the sidewalks with relative impunity.

  • Shprice

    I’m the artist who created the images that accompany the article.  I understand lion tailing as the practice of removing all branches except tuffs of foliage—”lion tails”— at the ends of outer branches with the intent of being able to see through a tree. The result is a tree that is almost all branches and few leaves leaving branches exposed to sun scald. It’s a practice that grudgingly accepts the presence of a tree, but tries to make it as transparent as possible. In urban areas, there is a natural desire to prune up lower branches to allow views of shop fronts and views of the street for crime prevention. So it is a trade off—how do you avoid any suggestion of lion tailing and yet allow those useful views. My intent was to show lots of foliage while keeping views up the street. I probably over did the pruning I depicted for a residential street, thus exposing lower branches to sun exposure, although the trees shown have very dense foliage and that area in the City sees lots of grey skies.

  • Sfjberk

    Correcto-mundo, Shprice: as you say, sun scald, which happens because of liontailing, is the direct cause of the Sooty Canker in the Ficus.
    I see why you used the liontailed trees to artistically present the street as you did, though.

    In reality, it would be an interesting experiment to drastically prune down the diseased trees pegged for removal to see how they do as very short trees. Folks would then be able to see *over* their tops, rather than see through the liontailed branches.

    You can see quite a few very short Ficus in other parts of the city. They look great.

  • Sfjberk

    When I installed my Sidewalk Garden a couple of months ago, I had to leave two squares of pavement – 6 feet for the sidewalk to remain.


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